Rolling Brexit fears cost tourism over €60m in 2017

Decline in visitors from UK in 2017 hits rural hospitality more than popular ‘honey spots’

A drop in numbers of British tourists visiting the Republic following the Brexit vote cost the hospitality industry more than €60 million in 2017, with areas that could least afford it feeling most pain.

Arrivals from Britain reached 3.9 million in 2016 – the highest since before the crash, according to the latest figures from Tourism Ireland.

But in the first full year following the vote by Britain to leave the EU, and subsequent drop in the value of Sterling, tourist numbers fell by some to some 2.7 million.

The average spend by British visitors in 2016 was €309 per person, resulting in an estimated loss of just over €60 million in 2017, according to Tourism Ireland.


The figures are particularly bad news for tourism interests outside the traditional “honey spots” of Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Clare and Galway, where the drop in visitors from Britain was more than compensated by a rise in visitor numbers from elsewhere – particularly an increase in numbers of high-spending north Americans.

Although tourism numbers hit record highs in 2017, some 80 per cent of visits here is focussed on attractions in Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Clare and Galway, known in the industry as “honey spots”. The remaining 20 per cent is spread across the southeast, midlands and north of a line from Dublin to Galway.

Some 25 per cent of British visitors stayed in Cork and Kerry in 2016 with 31 per cent staying in Dublin. By contrast, just 1 per cent stayed in the midlands area encompassing parts of Tipperary, Offaly and Longford, according to figures from Fáilte Ireland.

The situation is likely to exacerbate a two-speed growth in tourism with hotels in Dublin booming and having capacity problems, as opposed to hotels in the midlands-north that are struggling to fill bedrooms.

Central Statistics Office figures for January-December 2017 also confirm the 5 per cent drop in arrivals from Britain.

Tourism jobs

The figures come as hoteliers gather in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan, on Monday for the annual conference of the Irish Hotels Federation. Outgoing federation president Joe Dolan – who runs the Bush Hotel in Carrick on Shannon, Co Leitrim – said coarse fishermen who traditionally come from Britain were almost non-existent this year

Overall, however, hoteliers are set to report on a good year for the sector with more than 60,000 tourism jobs created since 2011.

The federation is set to report national room occupancy of 73 per cent, driven by significant growth in visitor numbers from the US and continental Europe, as well as from the domestic market. It says the healthy performance of other markets "helped to offset the drop in visitors from the UK, where numbers continue to fall".

Speaking on the eve of the annual conference chief executive Tim Fenn said that the hotel and guesthouse sector had benefited from what was another record year for Irish tourism.

Mr Fenn said that the outlook for the sector remains positive with hoteliers confident about future growth of the tourism and hospitality sector. “We are on track to create a further 40,000 tourism jobs by 2021. Every euro in tourism revenue generates €2.16 in indirect revenue across the wider economy, reaching into every town and county in the country,” he said.

But he cautioned that not every tourism business is enjoying the same level of success. “The slowdown in overseas visitor growth and the weakness in sterling leave no room for complacency.”

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist